What does Bradley’s hiring at Swansea mean for American soccer?
That sums up what Bob Bradley’s appointment as Swansea City’s new manager on Monday could be.
[ MORE: Key US figures react ]
Bradley, 58, has been chipping away for a chance like this for many years and Swansea’s new U.S. majority owners have handed him the keys to the Liberty Stadium.
This is a huge opportunity for not only Bradley but for the whole of the U.S. soccer community to be taken more seriously in Europe. That’s not an overstatement.
For many years any of us involved in the U.S. soccer scene have had to listened to digs and jibes from around the world about a nation which has not traditionally been a passionate patron of the beautiful game.
“What do Yanks know about football?” or “He’s American, what’s the point?” are already some of the responses to Bradley getting the Swansea job. Those responses are, sadly, far too predictable.
But what does being American have anything to do with being a good coach? It shouldn’t have anything to do with it but we all know it does.
[ LONGFORM: Bradley’s journey in Norway ]
Bradley himself has spoken out in the past about the same group of coaches getting jobs time and time again in the Premier League and Europe’s top leagues. Whether it is because they’re English and seem a safe bet, the circuit has been a closed shop for some time. Now, though, Bradley has a chance to prove just how good of a coach he is. Simply put, his nationality probably played a part in him not getting this chance 10 years ago.
Those attitudes and beliefs have often hindered not only American coaches but also American players getting chances in Europe’s elite leagues. Look around Europe’s top leagues today. There are a handful of U.S. players in Germany, five total in the Premier League and a few others scattered around. After that, well, U.S. youngsters at academies across Europe are battling away but are facing similar problems.
Back in 2014 I traveled to Norway to sit down with Bob and see his work firsthand with tiny Norwegian side Stabaek, but also to talk about why American’s have found it so hard to gain respect in Europe.
His resume is helping some of the barriers to be broken down but it will still take time. For instance, Ryan Giggs, who has zero head-coaching experience, was Swansea’s other option here and is many of Swansea’s fans are talking about him being a better option compared to Bradley’s almost four decades coaching in the game.
Bradley started off on home soil and led the expansion franchise Chicago Fire to an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup in their inaugural season. Then led Chivas USA to the playoffs before taking over the U.S. national team before heading overseas for the last five years in Egypt, Norway and France.
He is a disciple of Bruce Arena and was his assistant at the University of Virginia and D.C. United in MLS’ formative years. Bradley has been described by many as a founding father of American soccer along with Arena. During his days with the U.S. national team from 2006-11 he won the 2007 Gold Cup, took the U.S. to the 2009 Confederations Cup final after shocking Spain in the semifinals and reached the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. The U.S. national team, despite arguably having a stronger player pool now than when Bradley was in charge, has struggled to reach those heights.
The New Jersey native then moved to Egypt and took them to the brink of the World Cup in hugely trying circumstance during the Arab spring. He then proved his worth at Stabaek in Norway’s top-flight in 2014 and 2015 (he became the first-ever American to coach in a European top-flight there, by the way) taking the newly promoted side to third-place in his second season as they qualified for Europe. His most recent job was at Le Havre where he stepped down to France’s second-tier midway through last season and took them to within one goal of promotion to Ligue 1.
All of this says that Bradley has earned his chance to manage in the Premier League after being previously linked with the jobs at West Brom, Aston Villa, Sunderland Hull City and Fulham. Now is his chance to show the world, and mostly European soccer’s elite, that an American can succeed in the Premier League, and Europe, as a coach. This is a big chance for the American game to gain more respect globally.
Being successful at Swansea will be initially keeping them in the PL and then building them into a stable midtable club, something they’ve been since they arrived in the top-flight in 2011. The Princeton graduate will have to do that while also carrying the baggage of being an American. He’s used to it but it doesn’t make the task any easier.
Bradley doesn’t like to be known as a trailblazer and someone who is flying the American flag overseas but he is. That’s the only way he’s been able to get on people’s radar and that has eventually led to him getting this opportunity in the most-watched and competitive league on the planet.
His former assistant coach at Stabaek, Tomasz Kaczmarek, back in 2014, summed up the situation regarding the lack of respect for Americans in soccer perfectly.
Maybe one day coaches from the U.S. will be hired all across Europe and the rest of the world without a second glance at their passport. If we ever get to that point, there’s no doubting that Bradley’s appointment and any subsequent success he has at Swansea will have been a key factor in helping that happen.
Don’t underestimate how monumental of a moment this is for American soccer.